Potraz targets rural internet access

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Potraz director general Gift Machengete

BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
POSTAL and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) is focusing in increasing Internet access in the rural areas.

Presenting the Postal and Telecommunications 2021 fourth quarter sector performance in Harare on Tuesday, Potraz director general Gift Machengete said low disposable income was limiting majority of citizens access to data.

“Our data tariffs are not out of the world,” Machengete said.

“They are actually comparable with other countries in the region. We are lower than a few of our colleagues in the SADC region. When we look at South Africa, the problem is the value of the Rand is quite stronger than ours so at the end of the day it appears that the tariffs are high but its disposable income is higher than ours. The same applies to Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi also have higher disposable incomes, making their data appear cheaper than ours.”

Data usage doubled in 2021 compared to the previous year, mostly as a result of COVID-19 lockdown where individuals relied on the internet for interaction and business activities.

Machengete said Potraz was utilising Universal Service Funds (USF), a contribution by all telcom operators in the country to promote Internet access in marginalised areas.

“We are going to relocate about 22 base stations to some rural areas to promote internet penetration in the rural areas. We have given schools computers and we are paying bandwidth for them, especially now that we have been struck by the pandemic.”

Machengete said Potraz played its regulatory role to strike a balance between consumer affordability while enabling telcos to remain afloat.

“The year ahead, presents a positive outlook for the Information Communications Technology sector, considering the upheaval that swept across the industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Machengete said.

“In 2022, the industry is expected to focus on more innovation to deal with situations such as pandemics as well as emerging technologies such as Internet of things, machine to machine learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Distributed Ledger amongst others.  The various economic reforms by the Government of Zimbabwe have potential to positively transform the economy in 2022. However, as with the previous year, cost escalations are expected to continue, for as long as the dual currency system remains in practice. Hence, the intricacy of balancing service affordability and operator viability remains a priority for the regulator to address, whilst fiscal interventions may be necessary.”

Potraz statistics showed that in the final quarter of 2021, Netone grew its market share subscribers from 30.7% to 31.4% while Econet remains the largest firm, despite its market share dropping marginally from 65.1% to 64.9%. Telecel’s market share shrunk further, from 4.2% to 3.7%.